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Metonymy is based on a different type of relation between the dictionary and contextual meanings, a relation based not on identification, but on some kind of association connecting the two concepts which these meanings represent.

Thus, the word crown may stand for 'king or queen', cup or glass for 'the drink it contains', woolsack for 'the Chancellor of the Exchequer who sits on it, or the position and dignity of the Lord Chancellor', e. g., " Here the noble lord inclined his knee to the Woolsack." (from Hansard).

Here also the interrelation between the dictionary and contextual meanings should stand out clearly and conspicuously. Only then can we state that a stylistic device is used. Otherwise we must turn our mind to lexicological problems, i.e. to the ways and means by which new words and meanings are coined. The examples of metonymy given above are traditional. In fact they are derivative logical meanings and therefore fixed in dictionaries. However, when such meanings are included in dictionaries, there is usually a label fig ('figurative use'). This shows that the new meaning has not replaced the primary one, but, as it were, co-exists with it.

Still the new meaning has become so common, that it is easily predictable and therefore does not bear any additional information, which is an indispensable condition for an SD.

Here are some more widely used metonymical meanings, some of which are already fixed in dictionaries without the label fig: the press for '(the personnel connected with) a printing or publishing establishment', or for 'the newspaper and periodical literature which is printed by the printing press'. The bench is used as a generic term for 'magistrates and justices'. A hand is used for a worker; the cradle stands for infancy, earliest stages, place of origin, and the grave stands for death.

Metonymy used in language-in-action, ie. contextual metonуmy, is genuine metonymy and reveals a quite unexpected substitution of one word for another, or one concept for another, on the ground of some strong impression, produced by a chance feature of the thing, for example:

" Miss Tox's hand trembled as she slipped it through Mr. Dombey's arm, and" felt herself escorted up the steps, preceded by a cocked hat and a Babylonian collar" (Dickens)

'A cocked hat and a Babylonian collar' stand for the wearer of the articles in question. One can hardly admit that there is a special characterizing function in such a substitution. The function of these examples of genuine metonymy is more likely to point out the insignificance of the wearer rather than his importance, for his personality is reduced to his externally conspicuous features, the hat and red collar.

Here is another example of genuine metonymy:

" Then they came in. Two of them, a man with long fair moustaches and a silent dark man... Definitely, the moustache and I had nothing in common." (Doris Lessing, " Retreat to Innocence")

Again we have a feature of a man which catches the eye, in this case his facial appearance: the moustache stands for the man himself. The function of the metonymy here is to indicate that the speaker knows nothing of the man in question, moreover, there is a definite implication that this is the first time the speaker has seen him.

Here is another example of the same kind:

" There was something so very agreeable in being so intimate with such a waistcoat; in being on such off-hand terms so soon with such a pair of. whiskers that Tom was uncommonly pleased with himself." (Dickens, " Hard Times")

In these two cases of genuine metonymy a broader context than that required by a metaphor is necessary in order to decipher the true meaning of the stylistic device. In both cases it is necessary to understand the words in their proper meanings first. Only then is it possible to grasp the metonymy.

In the following example the metonymy 'grape' also requires a broad context:

" And this is stronger than the strongest grape

Could e'er express in its expanded shape." (Byron)

Metonymy and metaphor differ also in the way they are deciphered. In the process of disclosing the meaning implied in a metaphor, one image excludes the other, that is, the metaphor 'lamp' in the 'The sky lamp of the night', when deciphered, means the moon, and though there is a definite interplay of meanings, we perceive only one object, the moon. This is not the case with metonymy. Metonymy, while presenting one object to our mind, does not exclude the other. In the example given above the moustache and the man himself are both perceived by the mind.

Many attempts have been made to pin-point the types of relation which metonymy is based on. Among them the following are most common:

1. A concrete thing used instead of an abstract notion. In this case the thing becomes a symbol of the notion, as in

" The camp, the pulpit and the law

For rich men's sons are free." (Shelley)

2. The container instead of the thing contained:

The hall applauded.

3. The relation of proximity, as in:

" The round game table was boisterous and happy." (Dickens)

4. The material instead of the thing made of it, as in:

" The marble spoke."

5. The instrument which the doer uses in performing the action instead of the action or the doer himself, as in:

" Well, Mr. Weller, says the gentl'mn, you're a very good whip, and can do what you like with your horses, we know." (Dickens)

" As the sword is the worst argument that can be used, so should it be the last." (Byron)

The list is in no way complete. There are many other types of relations which may serve as a basis for metonymy.

It must also be noted that metonymy, being a means of building up imagery, generally concerns concrete objects, which are generalized. The process of generalization is easily carried out with the help of the definite article. Therefore instances of metonymy are very often used with the definite article, or with no article at all, as in " There was perfect sympathy between Pulpit and Pew", where 'Pulpit' stands for the clergyman and 'Pew' for the congregation.

This is probably due to the fact that any definition of a word may be taken for metonymy, inasmuch as it shows a property or an essential quality of the concept, thus disclosing a kind of relation between the thing as a whole and a feature of it which may be regarded as part of it.




Irony is a stylistic device also based on the simultaneous realization of twological meanings—dictionary and contextual, but the two meanings stand in opposition to each other. For example:

" It must be delightful to find oneself in a foreign country without a penny in one's pocket."

The italicized word acquires a meaning quite the opposite to its primary dictionary meaning, that is, 'unpleasant', 'not delightful'. The word containing the irony is strongly marked by intonation. It has an emphatic stress and is generally supplied with a special melody design, unless the context itself renders this intonation pattern unnecessary, as in the following excerpt from Dickens's " Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club": " Never mind, " said the stranger, cutting the address very short, " said enough—no more; smart chap that cabman—handled his fives well; but if I'd been your friend in the green jemmy—damn me—punch his head—, Cod I would— pig's whisper—pieman too, —no gammon."

" This coherent speech was interrupted by the entrance of the Rochester coachman, to announce that..."

The word 'coherent', which describes Mr. Jingle's speech, is inconsistent with the actual utterance, and therefore becomes self-contradictory. In no other device where we can observe the interplay of the dictionary and contextual meanings, is the latter so fluctuating, suggestive, and dependent on the environment as is irony. That is why there are practically no cases of irony in language-as-a-system.

Irony must not be confused with humour, although they have very much in common. Humour always causes laughter. What is funny must come as a sudden clash of the positive and the negative. In this respect irony can be likened to humour. But the function of irony is not confined to producing a humorous effect. In a sentence like " How clever of you! '' where, due to the intonation pattern, the word 'clever' conveys a sense opposite to its literal signification, the irony does not cause a ludicrous effect. It rather expresses a feeling of irritation, displeasure, pity or regret. A word used ironically may sometimes express very subtle, almost imperceptible nuances of meaning, as the word 'like' in the following lines from " Beppo" by Byron.




I like a parliamentary debate,

Particularly when 'tis not too late.




I like the taxes, when they're not too many;

I like a seacoal fire, when not too dear;

I like a beef-steak, too, as well as any;

Have no objection to a pot of beer;

I like the weather, when it is not rainy,

That is I like two months of every year.

And so God save the Regent, Church and King!

Which means that I like all and everything.

In the first line the word 'like' gives only a slight hint of irony. Parliamentary debates are usually long. The word 'debate' itself suggests a lengthy discussion, therefore the word 'like' here should be taken with some reservation. In other words, a hint of the interplay between positive and negative begins with the first 'like'.

The second use of the word 'like' is definitely ironical. No one would be expected to like taxes. It is so obvious that no context is necessary to decode the true meaning of 'like'. The attributive phrase 'when they're not too many' strengthens the irony.

Then Byron uses the word 'like' in its literal meaning. 'Like' in combinations with 'seacoal fire' and 'a beef-steak' and with 'two months of every year' maintains its literal meaning, although in the phrase " I like the weather" the notion is very general. But the last line again shows that the word 'like' is used with an ironic touch, meaning 'to like' and 'to put up with' simultaneously.

Richard Altick says, " The effect of irony lies in the striking disparity between what is said and what is meant." 1 This " striking disparity" is achieved through the intentional interplay of two meanings, which are in opposition to each other.

Another important observation must be borne in mind when analysing the linguistic nature of irony. Irony is generally used to convey a negative meaning. Therefore only positive concepts may be used in their logical dictionary meanings. In the examples quoted above, irony is embodied in such words as 'delightful', 'clever', 'coherent', 'like'. The contextual meaning always conveys the negation of the positive concepts embodied in the dictionary meaning.


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